Frank Mugisha, a gay rights activist in Uganda, will receive the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, marking the first time the honor will be bestowed on someone working for LGBT rights.
The Associated Press reports that Mugisha will receive the award named for the late U.S. attorney general and senator from New York during a ceremony Thursday on Capitol Hill. Ethel Kennedy, his widow, will present the award to Mugisha with Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.
"It gives me more courage to continue doing the work I'm doing," Mugisha told the AP about the award, which comes with a $30,000 stipend and six-year partnership with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. "It sends out a message, not only to my country but to other countries that criminalize homosexuality."
Mugisha, 29, serves as executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda and is one of the few openly LGBT activists in Uganda. The work is exceedingly dangerous in the East African nation, where parliament has been considering a bill that would impose harsh prison sentences and in some cases the death penalty on gay people.
In his work Mugisha has focused on the link between American evangelicals and the legislation. Parliament considered the bill and violence against LGBT people increased after religious activists from the United States visited Uganda in 2009 and held a conference about “rehabilitation” for gays.
"I think they are responsible for the bill," Mugisha told the AP. "They held a seminar and openly told Ugandans that they needed to tighten their laws on homosexuality and told Ugandans that homosexuals can be healed."
Scott Lively, the Massachusetts-based preacher from Abiding Truth Ministries accused by Mugisha of introducing the ideas, told the AP that he thinks imprisonment and the death penalty are too harsh, but he does not oppose the criminalization of gay people. He said he advised the Ugandan government to focus on “rehabilitation” and not punishment.